Career grumpiness and some advice to graduates

I got to talking about student holiday work this weekend.  Although some of my son’s friends are getting work (both paid and unpaid), the companies they’re working for seem to be taking considerable advantage of their youth and vigour.

Ledge-jumping stress levels are over-rated

He told me of a 20-year old lad who was required to work four eleven hour days in a stretch and participate in extended city, er, “entertainment” getting around 2 hours sleep each night.  As he stood on the station platform on the last morning he had seriously contemplated suicide under the iron wheels of the central line.  Another slightly older graduate who had joined a broking firm also found his marriage of only a few years breaking up under the stress of his working life.

What puzzled/angered me was the follow up comment “…but he earned a lot of money…”

I don’t get it.  I know we all try to earn a lot of money but generally speaking it’s a pretty good idea to balance this with a life.  My own career has not perhaps been exemplary but ledge-jumping stress levels and an early marriage break up can never be offset by a big salary.  Fact.

I pressed the point (quite forcibly!) to the author of the comment and his defence was that he had the choice; he chose that career – he wanted that money and he knew the pressures.  So if he chose that path, what other options did he dismiss? Here’s my take on the principle themes facing students like my lovely boy as he and many others make critical career choices.

  1. Make a lot of money.  We’ve pretty much covered this one above.  The lure of a Ferrari by age 24 is unquestionably appealing but it’s not a career for the faint hearted.  More and more people are starting to ask what exactly are bankers for?  I mean obviously keeping the global economy ticking over is important but is selling your soul to Mamon adding any real value to the world you live in? It needs thinking about.
  2. Change the world. One acid test for a meaningful career is to judge it for the value it adds, for the legacy it leaves rather than just the satisfaction it brings you.  Although as a graduate you can’t build a Large Hadron Collider in an afternoon, tightening the bolts on a particle accelerator is a worthy career.  As the cleaner at Nasa said when asked by a reporter what he did “I send people to the moon!”…
  3. Join/start a Charity. If it’s not money or a profession you want then there is only one other top-level option and that is to give it all up for a worthy cause.  Charities of today are smart, well organised entities.  They “get” social media and value relationships more than many commercial organisations do.  They offer well-constructed career paths and they look after their employees well.  They don’t offer company Ferraris but they do help a lot of people who are unable to help themselves and that means you’re changing the world a little too.
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One thought on “Career grumpiness and some advice to graduates

  1. So with you on this one – what’s the point in having a smart car if you have no time to enjoy it. In fact, what’s the point in having a smart car? If it gets you from A to B and holds enough junk, then the only reason to have a smarter car is because you have a love of cars. Not just ‘cos other people think its cool.

    Changing the world doesn’t have to be the LHC, it could be not polluting more, it could be looking after your little bit of the planet to leave it for the next keeper.

    If someone offered a way out of my mammoth amount of debt (built up years ago, and regretted ever since) and a chance to start again with a clean slate I’d take it. A little longer in the tooth than when I began, I don’t really feel the need to be earning to support a ‘lifestyle’ any more.

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